The Minister’s Krola: Reminiscences of Zik, the Owelle and his ways

By Editor on 14/07/2020

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Between Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Nnamdi Azikiwe, I’m still debating on who is more delightful to be with as a reporter. I had the rare privilege of meeting the two in my career.

When Zik was alive, I was one of the regular visitors at his Onuiyi Haven, Nsukka, a quiet and serene environment in the University town, where he holed up to spend the rest of his twilight days after an active life, through which he rose to become the undisputed father of the nation before his death in 1996. There was never a dull moment in virtually all those encounters as there were always new things to learn apart from the front page stories, you readily hit at each encounter, the delight of every reporter.

Two things I admired the most then were the quite colourful Persian rug that ran through the entire space of his expansive sitting room that offered some uncommon comfort to your feet and the historic pictures that adorned every space of the wall. I don’t think I was ever able to peruse through all of those breathtaking photos that captured most of his activities with Nigerian and world leaders. How could you? It could take at least a month of uninterrupted stay for you to do so.

Or what could you say about Owelle’s sense of humour and storytelling? He it was, who told me about the Ministers Krola. He mentioned the particular Minister (name withheld), who did not take alcohol or pretended not to take it because his religion forbade it.  Those were the days when Nigerians of his hue were far more united and pushed back the negative vibes that not only discolour, but stunt our collective spirit as a nation in the most profound way – days of conviviality and merriment in politics, before it became bespattered with the paintbrush of infamy as we find it today.

Zik was a drinking man, not in the negative sense, because I never saw him drunk, but always taking a little of what he offered you – usually his Tia Maria and Comfort, the two tasteful alcoholic beverages he would always offer you to choose from, a man that never discriminated against anyone.

It was from him that I learnt about parliamentary behaviour and etiquette. He calls it parlement in French. The protocol was that you must sit when someone else was speaking. So on occasions of arguments, he would always respectfully remind anyone that wanted to interrupt the other person, while still on the floor – Parlement! Parlement!

Zik was also democracy personified. Need I say that his home was a Mecca of sorts for individual and groups of all shade and sizes, many of whom I accompanied on their visits on those occasions, of course in my capacity as a reporter. In fact, I don’t know any politician worth anything in Nigeria that didn’t visit him at one time or the other when he was alive to go and collect blessings. They came from all parts of the country, especially those seeking the presidency. It was here that he would always practicalise his democratic ethos.

He would allow everybody in the entourage to speak first, always nodding without interruption. There after he would want to stand to speak and you would hear – Owelle, please sit, please sit. He would wait patiently to allow all of you exhaust your pleas. Then he would make his submissions. I thank you all, you have all spoken your mind and your wish is for me to sit and address you. That is your democratic right you have expressed. But, please, allow me to express my democratic right. It is my wish to stand and address you!

With that would always follow a thunderous ovation and laughter. Apart from making it out as a joke, he always tried to use it to teach his audience the principle of democracy and civility.

I know you’re still waiting for the Minister’s Krola part. Well, the Owelle, would tell you this story, when he offers you his choice drink and you decline, perhaps in the guise that you don’t take alcohol. He would always get you your choice drink, but not before you heard about the Minister’s Krola.

This was a Minister, with whom he played politics and had good rapport. Whenever he visited the Minister and would be quaffing his choice drink, which host would do well to provide for him, the said Minister would resort to his own choice drink, which was supposed to be the Krola, a sort of soft drink. But Zik was not fooled. He knew that the content of the bottle was not what the Minister said it was.

This happened on many occasions until one day, Zik himself decided to bust the racket and while the Minister, again settled for his Krola after serving him his own choice, Zik graciously asked his host for a sip of the Krola. The Minister eventually caught the joke that he had been beaten at his game. The whole thing ended in laughter and understanding.

I never knew that Zik was such a good dancer until I joined the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) to his home in the wake of the ill-fated 1993 presidential election campaign.

Abiola, like every other candidate or aspirant, was at the Owelle's home for blessing. In the team was the Kola Animasaun. As soon as he was introduced, both of them burst into the song – ko ile sori akpata, ko ile ko ile, ko ile so ri akpata – ile inyari a ba inyari lo, ko ile so ri akpata – I don’t know whether I’ve murdered this my Yoruba spellings. I never made it beyond class two in my Yoruba class in my secondary school at Awori College Ojo, where I enjoyed the sweetest daily meal of my life as a student. I don’t know how those our kitchen women made those food at that time. Was it the rice, ewa or asaro? I don’t know which one I couldn’t readily offer my right thumb for at that time. And that fish and meat? Not truly large, indeed, tiny, but the sweetest ever.

That's why when I hear about the fraud called School Feeding Programme, the billions of Naira that go into it and what the children are offered as food, the few lucky ones I've seen on TV, I usually weep at the depth this country has sunk. Pure, undiluted, crawling corruption and mindless ripping of the garment of decency.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Nigeria was never good. There was a time Nigeria was so good. When they tell you free education, and you had it free – free food, free books (note and textbooks), pencils erasers, Math-sets – no discrimination – Igboanugo, Kolawole, Oserada, Akpan, Adamu etc – all got the same thing. Today, you tell me to pick up a cutlass against a Yoruba man, when Awolowo and Jakande gave me a start in life – Whosai!

So, immediately Kola Animasaun began the song, which I later learnt was their signature tune during their NCNC days, the Owelle, despite his age, he was quite old at that time, leapt to his feet and the two started digging it.

Thereafter, Zik explained the meaning to the Yoruba-deaf members of the audience, which simply translates – build your house on a solid rock, for a house built on sand would be swept away when the gale comes.

Folks, my people, Nigeria was once built on solid rock. I saw it, I enjoyed and I relish the nostalgia today. I don’t know about you, I don’t know how you feel today with what you see, hear and taste.

I love Zik, I love Awo and I love Shagari! Do I love anyone today? Search me! But one thing I pray is that this gale should never com in my lifetime, neither should this evil cloud gathering should explode into acid rain while I'm still here. Kpom! Ka Chineke mezie okwu! Sai anjima. Ka rira pelu ayo!



Posted on July, 14 2020

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